(א) שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת רַבַּת צְרָרוּנִי מִנְּעוּרַי יֹאמַר נָא יִשְׂרָאֵל:
A song of the steps. They have been tormenting me for a long time, from my youth— Let Yisrael say this now —
NOTE: For a PDF of this mizmor, please click here. This will enable you to print out the entire text of the article. [Rev. 5]
Key Concepts of Mizmor 129 – A Nation in Pain
As in many of the previous mizmorim of this series, the mizmor speaks of a time when the Jewish people are in Exile. David composed the mizmor to put the pain of Exile in a historical context, which began with the sojourn in Mitzrayim when the Jewish nation was still young. That knowledge does not necessarily lessen the pain but demonstrates the possibility of Geulah.
Navigating Tehillim. This is the tenth in the series of 15 mizmorim to be sung by the Leviim in the Beis HaMikdash while standing on the 15 steps leading up from the women’s courtyard to the men’s courtyard.
Exploring the Mizmor
The mizmor consists of two parts, of four pesukim each. The first part is a cry of pain which ends with an expression of hope for relief due to the kindness of Hashem. The second part is an appeal to Hashem to permanently end the Exile.
PART 1. A NATION IN PAIN. David begins his song by expressing the pain of Exile. The nation has endured the pain of Exile intermittently over thousands of years, beginning when we were slaves in Mitzrayim (Egypt). The suffering is visualized as that of a field which is being trampled upon by strangers. They cruelly plough up the land with long and painful furrows. Relief is symbolized by the cutting of the harness that connects the oxen to the yoke of oppression.
Immediately after starting his song, David interrupts himself and calls upon his listeners to affirm the historical truth of what he is about to describe. Once the people have joined in, they draw encouragement at having survived. They then sense a glimmer of hope as the pain is relieved.
(א) שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת רַבַּת צְרָרוּנִי מִנְּעוּרַי יֹאמַר נָא יִשְׂרָאֵל: (ב) רַבַּת צְרָרוּנִי מִנְּעוּרָי גַּם לֹא יָכְלוּ לִי: (ג) עַל גַּבִּי חָרְשׁוּ חֹרְשִׁים הֶאֱרִיכוּ לְמַעֲנִיתָם: (ד) ה’ צַדִּיק קִצֵּץ עֲבוֹת רְשָׁעִים:
(1) A song of the steps. They have been tormenting me for a long time, from my youth —
[Overwhelmed by the thought, the singer has interrupted himself and now calls upon the nation to join him in affirming it:]
Let Yisrael say this now — (2) “They have been tormenting me for a long time, from my youth. Yet they did not prevail over me. (3) Ploughmen were plowing on my back. They lengthened their furrow. (4) Hashem is righteous; He cuts the ropes of the resha’im (wicked).”
Navigating Tehillim. This mizmor features an unusual construction in which the singer interrupts himself because he is overwhelmed by the emotion of what he is describing. A similar form appears in Mizmor 124 (The Bird has Escaped), where the singer is overwhelmed by the thought of what might have happened to us in past centuries if it were not for the loving hand of Hashem.
PART 2. A PRAYER FOR HELP. The nation calls upon Hashem to destroy its wicked enemies and demonstrate to all how transitory they really are. David compares the resha’im (wicked nations) to the dried out tufts of grass that temporarily spring up in the dust of rooftops. It is apparent to any farmer that these outcroppings have no real value. Whereas agricultural crops that are nurtured in healthy soil draw forth blessings by those who see them, the random growths are not even worthy of being harvested.
The mizmor ends by describing typical blessings with which Jews greet each other at harvest time to show their joy at seeing the prosperity of their fellows. These blessings demonstrate the goodwill that is lacking in the resha’im. They are similar to those exchanged between Boaz and the reapers (see Rus 2:4).
(ה) יֵבֹשׁוּ וְיִסֹּגוּ אָחוֹר כֹּל שֹׂנְאֵי צִיּוֹן: (ו) יִהְיוּ כַּחֲצִיר גַּגּוֹת שֶׁקַּדְמַת שָׁלַף יָבֵשׁ: (ז) שֶׁלֹּא מִלֵּא כַפּוֹ קוֹצֵר וְחִצְנוֹ מְעַמֵּר: (ח) וְלֹא אָמְרוּ הָעֹבְרִים בִּרְכַּת ה’ אֲלֵיכֶם, בֵּרַכְנוּ אֶתְכֶם בְּשֵׁם ה’:
(5) Let them be shamed and turned back, all who hate Tzion. (6) Let them be like the grass on rooftops, which withers before reaching maturity, (7) [with] which the reaper cannot fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his pack, (8) and of which passersby do not say, “Hashem’s blessing upon you”, “We bless you in the Name of Hashem.”
Navigating Tehillim. In contrast to the honest Jewish farmer who is worthy of a blessing, the wicked are like useless stubble upon whom a blessing would be wasted. Instead of being solidly grounded in morality and integrity like grain that grows from the earth they are like the temporary weeds that grow in the dust that cannot sustain them. As David said in Mizmor 001, they are like the straw that the wind blows away (Tehillim 1:4).
There is a natural and instructive relationship between Mizmorim 128 and 129. Mizmor 128 showed how the blessings that are earned by living a virtuous life begin with the devotion of the individual and then progress to the family and the entire nation.
Mizmor 129 carries that thought forward and reminds us that just as we were redeemed from Mitzrayim we will be redeemed from the present Exile. An underlying contributing factor to the first Exile in Mitzrayim and to our subsequent Exiles was the failure in brotherly love demonstrated by the selling of Yosef into slavery. Thus, it is significant that Mizmor 129 ends with the warm blessings of prosperity that conscientious Jews offer each other as a sign of goodwill and brotherly love.
Brotherly love begins in the family setting as described in Mizmor 128. The goodwill that children show each other as they are gathered around the family table becomes the source of blessing for the next generation and the entire nation.
Learning the Mizmor
PART 1. A CRY OF PAIN.
(א) שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת
This is the tenth song of the steps — שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת .
רַבַּת צְרָרוּנִי מִנְּעוּרַי –
My enemies — they have been tormenting me for such a long time — רַבַּת צְרָרוּנִי , from my very youth as a nation — מִנְּעוּרַי – when I was persecuted in Mitzrayim!
Overwhelmed by the thought, the singer has interrupted himself and now calls upon the nation to join him in affirming it.
יֹאמַר נָא יִשְׂרָאֵל:
Let Yisrael say this now — יֹאמַר נָא יִשְׂרָאֵל :
(ב) רַבַּת צְרָרוּנִי מִנְּעוּרָי
[All joining in:] They have been tormenting me for such a long time — רַבַּת צְרָרוּנִי from my very youth — מִנְּעוּרַי – as a nation!
גַּם לֹא יָכְלוּ לִי:
And yet they did not prevail over me — גַּם לֹא יָכְלוּ לִי .
(ג) עַל גַּבִּי חָרְשׁוּ חֹרְשִׁים
In their scorn my enemies have trampled upon me like the ground under their feet. It was as though ploughmen were plowing a furrow on my back — עַל גַּבִּי חָרְשׁוּ חֹרְשִׁים .
They lengthened their furrow — הֶאֱרִיכוּ לְמַעֲנִיתָם – and I eagerly waited for the respite that comes when the plough is turned around at the end of the cut. But in their cruelty, the ploughmen have extended the furrow and the wait seemed endless.
(ד) ה‘ צַדִּיק
קִצֵּץ עֲבוֹת רְשָׁעִים:
Hashem is righteous — ה’ צַדִּיק . Even though I don’t deserve it, He cuts the ropes with which the resha’im — קִצֵּץ עֲבוֹת רְשָׁעִים – have harnessed the yoke of oppression.
PART 2. A PRAYER FOR HELP.
(ה) יֵבֹשׁוּ וְיִסֹּגוּ אָחוֹר
כֹּל שֹׂנְאֵי צִיּוֹן
Let them ultimately be shamed by my release and let them be turned back — יֵבֹשׁוּ וְיִסֹּגוּ אָחוֹר from the evil plans of all who hate the nation of Tzion — כֹּל שֹׂנְאֵי צִיּוֹן – and its kedushah (holiness).
(ו) יִהְיוּ כַּחֲצִיר גַּגּוֹת
שֶׁקַּדְמַת שָׁלַף יָבֵשׁ:
Let them be transitory like the random grass — יִהְיוּ כַּחֲצִיר , which sometimes takes root on rooftops — גַּגּוֹת , but which withers before reaching maturity, — שֶׁקַּדְמַת שָׁלַף יָבֵשׁ , …
(ז) שֶׁלֹּא מִלֵּא כַפּוֹ קוֹצֵר
… which is so sparse and useless that the reaper cannot fill his hand — שֶׁלֹּא מִלֵּא כַפּוֹ קוֹצֵר – with it, nor the binder of sheaves his pack — וְחִצְנוֹ מְעַמֵּר , …
(ח) וְלֹא אָמְרוּ הָעֹבְרִים
בִּרְכַּת ה‘ אֲלֵיכֶם
בֵּרַכְנוּ אֶתְכֶם בְּשֵׁם ה‘:
… and of which passersby do not bother to say — וְלֹא אָמְרוּ הָעֹבְרִים , “May Hashem’s blessing be upon you — בִּרְכַּת ה’ אֲלֵיכֶם ,” and “We bless you in the Name of Hashem — בֵּרַכְנוּ אֶתְכֶם בְּשֵׁם ה’ .”
Living the Mizmor
Listed below are some of the thoughts you might have in mind when you say the words of the mizmor as tefillos expressing your gratitude to Hashem and as tehillos expressing your recognition of Hashem.
Tefillos for Life – Your Anguish.
[129:1] HISTORY OF PAIN. – רַבַּת צְרָרוּנִי מִנְּעוּרַי – “They have been tormenting me for a long time, from my youth.” Put your anguish in a historical context. Remind yourself that Hashem rescued you in the past. Surely He will do so again.
[129:4] – ה’ צַדִּיק קִצֵּץ עֲבוֹת רְשָׁעִים – “Hashem is righteous; He cuts the ropes of the resha’im.”
Tefillos for Life – Your Yeshuah.
[129:5] TURN THEM BACK. – יֵבֹשׁוּ וְיִסֹּגוּ אָחוֹר כֹּל שֹׂנְאֵי צִיּוֹן – “ Let them be shamed and turned back, all who hate Tzion.” Ask Hashem to demoralize the enemy so that they no longer have the heart to persecute us.
Tefillos for Life – Your Berachah.
[129:8] GREETING. – בִּרְכַּת ה’ אֲלֵיכֶם – “Hashem’s blessing upon you.” You may greet another Jew with a prayer to Hashem to bless him.
[129:8] – בֵּרַכְנוּ אֶתְכֶם בְּשֵׁם ה‘ – “We bless you in the Name of Hashem.”
The primary sources used in the interpretation of the verses of this mizmor are listed below.
א – אבן עזרא, ספורנו, מלבי”ם, נר לרגלי
ב – המאירי
ג – אבן עזרא, רד”ק
ד – אבן עזרא, מלבי”ם
ה – אבן עזרא, רד”ק, המאירי, מצודות, מלבי”ם
ו – אבן עזרא
ז – אבן עזרא, המאירי
ח – אבן עזרא